When Future In-Laws Were Once Outlaws

A former student of mine called me out of the blue; he wanted to meet me for a cup of coffee and a healthy dose of advice regarding his upcoming nuptials. This happened when I lived in Boston, Massachusetts, in the little neighborhood of Brookline.  Right down the street from the Coolidge Corner T stop, I met Mark for a cup of Peet’s Coffee eager to hear what brought him into my New England town.

As the warm aromas of roasted coffee beans drifted around us, my student told me the history of his fiancée and her family. Four years ago, while he was checking out grad schools, Mark* met Shelly-Anne* in line to talk to an admissions representative. They immediately hit it off, agreeing to meet for lunch and explore the rest of campus together. While neither ended up going to that particular university, they stayed in touch and eventually fell in love. Mark’s family is the stereotypical nuclear family of the 1950’s, and it came as some surprise when Mark eventually learned more about Shelly-Anne’s family.  Her father and one of her brother’s were currently serving time in prison: Dad for repeated drug offenses/DUIs and the brother for fraud. As Mark grew to know that he wanted Shelly-Anne to be his wife, he struggled with how to reconcile the two very different families. Even knowing that there would be issues, that Christmas, he proposed and she happily accepted. Now, he wondered, how does he bridge the two families together to make the wedding a success?

My first question was if the incarcerated family members would be attending the ceremony and reception. Mark said that yes, if all went well, they would wait to hold the wedding until their release dates which should happen within the next two years. His concerns weren’t just about figuring out ways to combine two families from incredibly different backgrounds and circumstances, but about more practical matters including whether he could trust his new in-laws to be around money and gifts, how they would handle alcohol at the reception, and if he should tell his family and friends or not.

My advice was simple: talk to his bride. Without discussing all of these points with her, he would only be guessing and possibly escalating in his mind potential problems.  Once they have the initial conversation, I suggested that the Mothers from both sides join them for a private, intimate chat about how best to handle the details. I let Mark know that his fear about offending his bride with his very practical concerns would be overshadowed by the inability to enjoy the marriage planning and wedding itself.

Brides and grooms may have concerns about any number of aspects of their upcoming weddings. Save yourselves heaps of disappointment and be honest, open, and understanding of each other’s stressors. This celebration is a party that unites two families as well as two individuals; nothing can spoil it if you work together to overcome any obstacles!

*Names changed to prevent, you know, awkwardness.

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